This Meliora Weekend, we welcome back parents, alumni, family and friends. We welcome special guests to entertain and inspire us. It is also an opportunity to consider our motto, Meliora – better. This summer, the University was named a “New Ivy” by Newsweek, and the high-achieving Class of 2010 demonstrates our new popularity. Yet, as President Seligman continues with his publicity initiative, we need to consider how to make our University worthy of this new spotlight.
Certainly, our research is first-rate and our academic programs are worthy of praise. Our Medical Center continues to produce new life-saving therapies and the University continues to be a nurturing influence on the local community.
But many of our administrative departments are not up to the same standards. If we want to reach world-class status, we must raise the level of behavior of these departments to that of the rest of the University. To do that, I propose we take something from the business world – process improvement. Let’s look at some of the most egregious issues that could be fixed by process improvement.
The Office of Residential Life seems surprised that every year the University accepts new freshmen. This has only been going on for about 150 years – you would think someone would have gotten the message by now. Someone should send them a memo. Indeed, we had more freshmen this year than expected, but I think we would see the same problems whether the school accepted one hundred or one thousand freshmen.
ResNet struggles to keep an outdated network afloat and, in spite of recent upgrades and additions, the network seems like it fails more times than not. The wireless network needs to cover the whole campus and provide a reliable connection. And yes, e-mail servers do go down from time to time, but the downtime should be measured in hours, not days.
We continue to hear about improvements to dining services – a new offering here, a renovation there. There are two main issues. First, running out of food. If you were to go to a restaurant or fast food location, would you find it acceptable for them not to have food? Absolutely not. There is no excuse for running out of food, especially non-perishable or shelf-stable items.
Two, dining locations should close at the time posted, not 15 or 30 minutes before. If students show up 15 minutes before closing, all regular food options should be available to them.
The Office of the Registrar, which is vital to the academic programs of the University, is more likely to make a mistake than not and will take an excessively long time in doing it. It’s amazing that they’re able to certify that people are allowed to graduate in time for graduation.
The above list is not intended to be comprehensive. However, everything listed is a core task to each department which they are unable to complete.
What must we do to remove these problems? Some might be aware of Six Sigma, which was pioneered by Motorola in the 1980s. Six Sigma is a methodology for reducing defects in any product or process and one of many tools available for process improvement. Six Sigma is actually a statistical term reflecting 3.4 defects per one million attempts.
For process improvement to work, it takes a very strong leader, namely because of two obstacles to success – culture change and money. Culture change is required to make certain behaviors unacceptable, and is generally resisted most firmly within a well established institution.
Process improvement is an investment and, as an investment, it requires money up front to pay for the time and effort required to complete the job successfully. However, successful process improvement results in cost savings which can reach into the millions or even tens or hundreds of millions. The initial expenses can be recouped within a number of years.
Perhaps those savings can even be passed on to the tuition bill. And as an Alumni or potential donor, why would I want to donate money when it would just be wasted in bureaucracy? For those of us at the University, we would see a streamlining of processes, making things more professional and making our lives easier in general.
Rochester has indeed come a long way to earn the position it is now in. At this point, we should be setting the standard that other universities aspire to reach, but in many cases we are still behind our peers.
The reformation of the process will require the courage and will to change and that is always difficult to achieve.
There is only one person in the University who is in a position of authority and leadership to take on such an endeavor – President Seligman. President Seligman, I hereby call on you to turn this University into an institution we can all be even more proud of for years to come.
Klein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.